In 2012, while contesting the Punjab Assembly polls, Sukhbir Singh Badal declared himself a humble farmer. His only vehicle: an old Mussy tractor worth around Rs 2 lakh. A few months later, ‘politician and agriculturist’ Badal acquired a huge stake in a family-owned aviation company engaged in ferrying passengers on planes and buses.
According to the Registrar of Companies (RoC) documents, Sukhbir now holds shares in Orbit Aviation in three different ways: 5,000 direct shares, about 2 crore shares through his hospitality firm Orbit Resorts and 41 lakh shares through his media firm called G-Next Media Private Limited.
Badal's aviation company has three flying jets - an eight-seater Cessna 525A jet, another eight-seater Super King Air B 200 and a helicopter Bell 429,” according to the Times of India.
On Wednesday night, a 13-year-old girl died when she was thrown out after being molested by the staff and some passengers while travelling in a bus in Punjab. The victim’s mother, who was also pushed out, is hospitalized with severe injuries. The incident was a re-run of the Nirbhaya gang-rape in Delhi, except that the outrage was limited to Punjab.
The bus belonged to Orbit Aviation, the company co-owned by Sukhbir Singh Bada Badal, deputy chief minister of Punjab. “Unfortunately, the vehicle was ours,” his father and chief minister Parkash Singh Badal said.
Within hours, DGP Sumedh Singh Saini ruled out questioning of the owners. Naturally, understandably. There are owners; and there are the Badals, the first family of Punjab. Nobody crosses the path of a Badal in an Orbit of his own.
Compare this with police action that followed the rape of a woman by an Uber cab driver in Delhi in December 2014. Soon after the incident, the Delhi government banned all app-based taxi services, questioned Uber on the process of selection of drivers, screening of its staff and harassed its management through notices. The cops filed an FIR against Uber for ‘cheating’ customers on the pretext of providing safe commuting and reliable drivers.
Former home secretary and BJP MP RK Singh even insinuated that there was a case for implicating Uber as a co-accused in the rape case.
“Definitely it should be banned; also, Uber should be considered an accused. Uber is providing services, it has to take responsibility, and it should engage drivers only after verification. It is my view,” Singh had argued, while speaking to ANI. Home minister Rajnath Singh had gone on to ask all states to ban Uber cabs.
Now, nobody will suspend the licence of Orbit Aviation, find out if it had the permit to ply buses on that route, ask the management if due diligence was carried out while hiring the conductor and the helper, or whether the driver had a valid license or was given ‘gender training’. The home minister will not ask all states to ban Orbit’s buses—in case they have inter-state travel permits—or ground Badal’s planes. RK Singh will, naturally, not argue that the Badals, partners in NDA, be implicated.
This is not to argue that the Badals are in any way guilty of the crime. There may have been some lapses in hiring the staff, checking their police records, licences and testimonials; there could have been possible issues with permits, but that is where the company’s, like Uber’s, role would have ended.
But, by not acting with the same enthusiasm, by excluding owners from the probe, the Punjab police missed the opportunity to bring the murky business of private buses and their staff under the scanner, put it under the national spotlight.
This could have India’s Uber moment for private buses. Orbit’s owners may be high-fliers, but making them part of the probe would have told us more about the ground realities of travelling on buses in remote corners of India.
Updated Date: May 02, 2015 18:21 PM